2

Psalms 8:5, HOT;

  1. (8:6) ותחסרהו מעט מאלהים וכבוד והדר תעטרהו׃

LXX;

  1. (8:6) ἠλάττωσας αὐτὸν βραχύ τι παρ᾿ ἀγγέλους, δόξῃ καὶ τιμῇ ἐστεφάνωσας αὐτόν·

The literal translation of מאלהים is (gods), as in LSV (Literal Standard Version).

But we find most translations are either: (angels), (God) or (yourself).

So, what is the most accurate translation?

Take in consideration that מאלהים may, also, be used for earthly illuminated holy beings.

5
  • The apostolic writer to the Hebrews makes it quite clear that the common translation 'angels' is the correct one. – Nigel J Feb 9 at 8:05
  • 4
    @NigelJ I am not talking about apostolic quotation in Hebrews. The question is about the Psalmic text. – salah Feb 9 at 9:33
  • More or less a duplicate of hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/q/8395/17080 – Abu Munir Ibn Ibrahim Feb 9 at 16:41
  • ‘Elohim’ being used for earthly beings is conjecture. It can be seen to mean ‘heavenly entities’ in every use. However some require it to be ‘man’ in a few places to support their doctrine. – Dave Feb 9 at 17:30
  • @abumuniibnibrahim It seems somehow a duplicate, but my wording seems more accurate, and adds a new scope. Thank you. By the way, I am Egyptian, my name is Salah Alhariri. You're welcome. – salah Feb 9 at 21:11
3

There is doubt as to the most accurate translation.

I read this as the plural "gods", with the understanding that what is most likely meant by "gods" is "heavenly bodies", such as stars, comets due to the overall structure of the psalm, as per NICOT

The second stanza closes with four balanced cola that specify the subjects over which royal humanity is to exercise dominion: sheep and oxen, beasts of the field, birds and fish, and the mysterious creatures in the deeps of the sea. The order of this list is not haphazard, but is part of a careful poetic strategy in the psalm. This poetic strategy plays on the ideas of vertical and horizontal dimensions. Throughout the first six verses of the poem, the poet has subtly woven in a motif of vertical descent:

     v. 1b      above the heavens
       ↓
     v. 3      heavens … moon and stars
       ↓
     v. 5a      but a little lower than heavenly beings
       ↓
     v. 5b      crowned them (a reference to the head)
       ↓
     v. 6a      hands
       ↓
     v. 6b      feet

Having descended to earth, the psalmist now changes directions and describes a horizontal vector that moves outward from human society:

sheep and oxen → beasts of the field → birds → fish → whatever passes the paths of the seas

The first animals, sheep and oxen, are the domesticated animals that share space in the midst of human society. The trajectory described then proceeds outward until it ends in the sea, which in the ancient Near East was conceived as the place of chaos, least hospitable to human society. But that is all the more reason to marvel at the assertion made here in Psalm 8! The fish of the sea and even those mysterious creatures that pass in the depths of the sea are realms of human responsibility! God has placed even these wild and unknown creatures under our care.

Jacobson, R. A., & Tanner, B. (2014). Book One of the Psalter: Psalms 1–41. In E. J. Young, R. K. Harrison, & R. L. Hubbard Jr. (Eds.), The Book of Psalms (pp. 125–126). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

4
  • Very interesting pattern - many thanks for sharing this. +1. You should include where is is quoted in the NT(Heb 2:9) and the way the LXX treats this verse. – Dottard Feb 9 at 9:00
  • @Dottard Thanks! This is the NICOT commentary, the citation follows the excerpt. – Robert Feb 9 at 9:21
  • I hope you do not mind but I referenced your answer in my answer. – Dottard Feb 9 at 9:44
  • don't mind at all! – Robert Feb 9 at 9:50
2

I am very impressed with Robert's answer for this question as it provides some valuable structural material which helps to inform the answer. The facts are these:

Here is a very literal translation of Ps 8:5 -

Yet You have made him a little lower than gods, And You crown him with glory and majesty!

The highlighted word, "gods" here is אֱלהִים (elohim) which is literally, "gods" but is also the word used to denote "God" (singular) but is always plural. Now, it is true that this word can occasionally mean something other than "God" such as:

  • leaders or judges, eg, Ex 21:6, 22:7, 8, Judges 5:8, etc.

Some suggest that it can sometimes mean "angels" but there is no undisputed place where this occurs. However, for what it is worth, the LXX translates this word as "angels". Further, when Heb 2:6-8 quotes this verse, it is quoted from the LXX and thus rendered "angels".

Interestingly, the analysis of Robert (another answer here) would also suggest (or not exclude) "angels" as a translation.

Most of the modern versions appear to have arrived at a similar conclusion. Thus, the force of this Messianic prophecy is that during His incarnation, Jesus took human nature and was this made a little lower than angels.

1

I'm a native Hebrew speaker, and to me it appears clear that the original meaning is "God". The word אלהים is plural in its form, but in the vast majority of its appearances in the Hebrew Bible it refers to God; there are a few counter-examples, usually referring to אלהים אחרים - "other gods". But in most cases, the verbs in verses containing אלהים refer to Him in the singular - making it clear that though the form of the word is plural, the meaning is singular.

There are a few examples of the word referring to judges, but I doubt that any exist where one could conclusively say that it refers to angels. I believe that in any case where this is claimed, the verse would be clearer to understand if the meaning is taken as "God" and not as "angels". I believe that this is also the case here: when man looks at the mighty works of God, the sky and the moon and stars, he feels in awe. So he wonders: what is man that you have placed him a little lower than God, and let him reign over the works of God - the beasts of earth, sea and air? I don't see how angels even come into this picture. Do they reign over anything? Are they pictures in this way in Psalms or otherwise in the Hebrew Bible? You have to pre-assume a lot of theology to even consider that.

And theology is the cause of interpretations and translations as in the King James version. If one assumes a theology that completely separates man from God, then the concept of being "a little lower" is meaningless; there is a gap, an abyss between man (and any of God's creation) and God. It can't be crossed, you can't be closer. If you assume that angels are made of a purer substance than man and are nearer to God, you won't be able to interpret the verse as placing man close to God - his less-pure nature would always limit him to be below the angels. And the same goes for various Christian-specific dogmas and assumptions. The common translations include a lot of this kind of assumptions, and while I can't comment on their theological validity I can say that it does interfere with the understanding of the text as written.

3
  • Hi! You may be interested to look at the last paragraph I just added to my answer. – David Feb 10 at 6:45
  • Thanks for pointing me! In my view, it does seem reasonable to speak about "a little lower than God". You know, when my son was very small, I once held him and thought: this child doesn't know that changes are coming into his life. He doesn't know that he's about to move to a different room, that a little sister will soon join him... Perhaps (I thought) that's how God looks at us. To this child, I appear as his God. For man to rule Earth, with its multitudes of beasts, can feel like being a small god. He feels that within his kingdom he reigns supreme. That's the psalmist's feeling. – user288134 Feb 10 at 9:48
  • Hmm, we surely agree that it's interpretation and not indisputable. I think a lot of this hinges on whether we treat "make him a little lower than elohim" and "crown him with glory and majesty" as cohering or contrasting. I felt that it was meant to be contrasting, namely that "little lower than elohim" implies "not mighty" (like infants), whereas I think you prefer to read it as cohering with "crown him ...". Since the "make little" is vague, this can go either way. But if I wanted the two parts to cohere, I would write "you make him be elohim" as in Psa 82; not "little lower than elohim". – David Feb 19 at 9:19
1

The original meaning of the Hebrew word "אלהים" (elohim) is "mighty one[s]", which may be just an ordinary plural or a majestic plural used in a singular sense. It really means nothing more than that. Certainly, the Hebrews used "אלהים" mostly for God, because after all God is viewed as the most mighty one of all, but given its broader meaning it is no surprise to see them use the word for other beings including humans and God's messengers.

The "מ" in front is a prefix, not part of the lexical unit "אלהים" itself, so you should not be talking about translation of "מאלהים" as "gods". Together, it means roughly "from mighty one[s]" which as a reference point for comparison means "than mighty one[s]".

Thus Psa 8:6 literally says nothing more than "and you make him a little less than mighty one[s]". Now what does this refer to? One must look at the context. The LXX interpreted it to refer to messengers (αγγελοι) of God, hence it puts "βραχυ τι παρ αγγελους" (somewhat a little less than messengers [of God]). The ASV preferred interpretating it as God himself, hence they put "God" in the main translation. Darby's translation matches the LXX, putting "angels".

It is clear that Psa 8 is praising God for the great works of his hands and yet giving 'insignificant' mankind authority over many of his works, and I think it makes little sense for the psalmist to say "a little lower than God" in such a psalm. The LXX reading makes more sense; although mankind was created as 'lower beings' compared to the messengers of God, they were given more authority; less might but more authority.

I agree with another answer that theology obscures or twists the reading of the text. I also agree that there does not seem to be an example in the Hebrew writings where "אלהים" unambiguously refers to angels, but still, it makes no sense to me to say "a little less than God". Firstly, everything that God creates is of course lesser. And secondly, "a little less" makes little sense given the preceding verses that imply that man is powerless (babies, infants, nothing intrinsically worth being mindful of). Even "the complete Jewish bible" renders Psa 8:6 using "angels"...

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.